What Are the Best Tips for Hiring a Family Law Attorney in California?

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At the Law Offices of Kyle R. Puro, our family law attorney in Long Beach, California knows that major life decisions unfold in our office, and none of those personal choices should be left to chance by partnering with a lawyer who is not the right fit for your needs.

Your family lawyer should be your knight in shining armor and not a thorn in your side. Our community is overrun with terrible family law attorneys hustling to make a buck and hurting our residents’ chances of getting the best outcome they deserve.

The best family law lawyers are in Los Angeles, and you can find an amazing lawyer to represent you with diligence, competence, and class. The diversity of cases that Southern California offers makes us the best family law lawyers in the country.

With so many family law attorney options to choose from in Los Angeles County and Orange County, we are committed to providing the resources our community needs to make informed decisions when choosing the best representation for their current and future family needs.

Here are a few tips for finding the right family law attorney for your unique case.

Tip One:

Locate an Attorney Who Exclusively Practices Family Law & Prepare for A Consultation

If your case is brand new (nothing has ever been filed in court), the consultation should be free. If your case is ongoing and papers have been filed, expect to pay at least $100 for the consultation because the lawyer has to dig around and find out how to help you.

When you seek to hire a family law attorney, it is usually when you are stressed out emotionally and things are on the brink. If you are not careful, an attorney will prey on your emotional weakness and gut your savings before you even know the next steps. Different firms have different billing practices and marketing schemes. Make sure you are aware of exactly who and what you are hiring.

The best way to find a family law attorney is through word of mouth. Ask friends, family members, and even coworkers who had a good experience who they recommend. The goal is to find an attorney who will be passionately invested, that has credibility with the court, and the temperament required to guide you through troubled times.

If you do not know anyone who has successfully hired a family law attorney in Long Beach, search the internet for different attorneys in your market, and read their reviews, case studies, and testimonials to get a feel for their experience.

Research the Attorney’s Resume

The best and most ethical family law attorneys spent part of their career in public service. That means that they were district attorneys, public defenders, or worked with a large volume of cases in cooperation with the other side of the legal system at some point throughout their career.

That is where family law attorneys learn the skills required to be creative and think on their feet. A lot of times what you expect to happen in your family law hearing doesn’t matter, so it is important that the lawyer can adjust in real time.

If you happen upon an attorney who practices both criminal and family law, it is probably best to move on. Search for an experienced family law attorney who specializes in only the practice areas that you require representation in.

Familiarity with the Judge & Family Courts

A great test when hiring a family lawyer is asking the lawyer if they are familiar with the judge that you have been assigned. If the lawyer knows nothing about the judge you are assigned, this should raise a red flag. Some judges are newly assigned, so even if the lawyer has not appeared before that judge before, they should be discussing resources to determine how to effectively deal with that judge. Knowing how the judge will analyze your case and their pet peeves is also the starting point to determining your strategy.

Another thing to consider is, some judges that have a track record of ruling unfairly, and our law firm knows all too well that there are real consequences of judicial incompetence.

If the judge you have been assigned is bad news, you need to know that within 10-15 days of receiving notice of the court assignment. Make sure to have this conversation with your lawyer. If they draw a blank when discussing this issue, you will want to move onto a different attorney.

Opposing Counsel Relationship

Another great question to ask is if the lawyer knows or has worked against the opposing counsel during another case. There are some attorneys that we admire and have settled highly complicated matters with over the years. If we know that person is on the case, it makes it a lot easier to meet in the middle.

When this scenario is true, we can cut to the chase, and remove the posturing that delays the case’s resolution to get down to the real issues. You want the lawyer you hire to be able to effectively communicate with opposing counsel and the judge with credibility.

When the opposing attorney has an unsavory reputation, or is flat-out incompetent, it often means that firm will charge more money up-front. Family law lawyers are in the business to make money, and mediocracy is everywhere. Some Los Angeles firms will bill unethical amounts of money to their client, as we have seen time and time again.

We recently went up against one of these firms. It was a simple initial custody motion. The big firm billed the mother $15,000. We charged the father $2,500. We not only won the case but were effectively able to settle of all the issues, so our client could get their life back on track.

Beware of Big Firm Blues

Often, big family law firms want to fight every single issue. They fight and contest unimportant matters and give their clients bad advice, simply to make more money.

The bottom line with larger firms is their overhead comes first, and their clients last.

When clients are unable to pay these large firms right away, they will waste little time in sending your outstanding balance to a collection agency, which can jeopardize your credit and your overall financial standing.

If your ex-spouse or partner has hired a big family law firm, you need to know that right away. Big firm tactics require defensive strategies, which take time to counter, and your attorney’s focus should be on the details that matter. When we are facing the opposing counsel of a big firm, we will construct a unique strategy for each of your needs while your ex-partner feels the crunch from their legal fees.

Usually, family law attorneys work for themselves or small law firms. The more attorneys in the law firm, the more money you are likely to be billed. The nicer the office, the more you are likely to be billed.

Being up front with your lawyer during your initial consultation about how their billing works is a great way to establish trust. There should be a clear understanding of the attorney’s billing practices and how they plan to proceed with your case to avoid any potential drama that should never exist between a lawyer and client.

Strategy/Settlement

Diagnosing your family law issue properly right away and setting a course to resolve it are vital for success. Always ask about your attorney’s strategy to settle your case. On an almost daily basis, we hear judges say to parents that the judge is “a complete stranger and if you do not want a stranger deciding custody of your kids go out in the hallway and settle.”

Upfront discussion about how to settle your case and creating strategies that maximize your chance for settlement needs to happen in any initial consultation. Your family law attorney’s job is to get your case closed as soon as possible, so that you can get back your life back.

In family law, attorneys can represent their clients on a limited scope. That means that instead of paying a retainer agreement and being charged hourly, the client can be charged a flat rate for certain services. The rates are flat and up front and you do not need to worry about hidden fees.

For example, if you are case is only about child custody, it will not generate a lot of paperwork. If you own a business and the case is about determining your assets and ability to pay support, you can expect more paperwork and expenses. The former is a better case for limited scope and the latter would only be taken as attorney of record.

Two different people who are facing divorce will have two uniquely different cases, which must be handled with precision and outlined specifically to that client’s circumstances. Setting objectives from the outset can mean the difference in thousands of dollars and not obtaining a fair custody schedule.

Costs and Scope of Representation

Clients sign a retainer agreement that states the costs associated with the lawyer’s representation. The contract can call for one or two types of representation. Limited Scope Representation or Attorney of Record.

Attorney of Record

The attorney is your attorney until the case resolves, a substitution of attorney is signed, or a motion to be relieved is granted. When applying the attorney of record, it means that every hearing, communication, and contact goes through the lawyer.

Retainers for this representation are charged at an hourly rate. The client makes a down payment for the services to be rendered. For example, let’s say the attorney charges a $5,000 retainer fee, and charges $350 per hour.

The $5,000 is placed in the attorney trust account (bank account) and you are billed by the hour and for expenses. That means that if the attorney is in court for eight hours in one day, it will cost $2,800.00. That leaves you with $2,200.00 left in trust for the case.

If an attorney is only asking for $1,500 or $2,500 for a retainer to be your attorney of record, you should be careful. Read the retainer agreement. If they are billing $300 per hour, it means that money will go fast. That means that the attorney is likely making money off you in collections.

Limited Scope Representation

Lawyers are resourceful tools that produce results, and people hire us to perform a job they need done. Not everyone needs a lawyer to handle their entire case. You may just need the lawyer for one hearing. After that hearing, it is possible that your case can settle or proceed on autopilot.

With limited scope, the client represents themselves other than the appearance or resolution of an issue. Typically, it costs $2,500 for an attorney to set strategy, draft your papers to go to court for one hearing only, get the papers served, get proof of service filed, consult with client, appear in court, and then formalize the order. After that, the client is back on their own. If the orders resolve your issue, you can get back to living your life for a flat rate.

Usually the bigger family law firms do not provide limited scope representation. Another indicator that the client’s best interests often comes after the firm’s financial bottom line.

The same is true for adoptions and families who are dealing with child protective services issues. We’ll talk more about your options when hiring a dependency attorney in our next blog.

Every case requires a customized approach to produce results, so it is important that your family law attorney — who will be your partner throughout the legal process — specializes in your case’s needs. Simply put, you would never hire a business attorney to handle your divorce or a divorce lawyer to help jumpstart your business.

Tip Two: Ask Questions & Give Honest Answers to Those Asked of You

Family law cases are inherently sensitive and personal, which means you will be asked a lot of questions about your home and family life, which may be hard to answer. A family lawyer must know all of the facts. So many times, our clients have withheld information because they are embarrassed about the circumstances, and that can severely hurt you’re their cases.

Keep in mind, the key to your case’s success relies on your honesty. The same is true for your attorney, so do not be afraid to ask questions that help you assess their abilities.

Those questions can include, but are not limited to:

  • Will you be my primary contact? How is the best way to communicate with you? And how long does it take to get a response?
  • What kind of experience do you have in handling cases like mine?
  • How would you describe your approach in (my specific family law) cases?
  • How heavy is your current caseload?
  • How will you inform me of developments in my case?
  • What do you think of my case? What are my chances of succeeding?
  • Do you have adequate resources for my needs, including access to financial specialists, therapists, or other specialists who can build my case?
  • What are the different outcomes possible in this case?
  • Would it be okay if I talked to a former client? Can you give me a referral or provide reviews/testimonials?
  • What is your retainer fee and hourly billing rate? What does that include?
  • Once my case begins, is there a schedule to keep it moving toward resolution?

Once all your questions are answered, ask yourself if your personality meshes with the family law attorney you are interviewing. Their experience isn’t the only factor in achieving success in your case, so it is important that you feel a connection that will allow your partnership to produce results.

Tip Three: Choose an Attorney Who is a Skilled Mediator & Litigator

While many family law cases may successfully conclude outside of the courtroom, your Long Beach attorney must have the experience required to win inside the courtroom when necessary.

Ask your lawyer what training and experience they have had in family law negotiations, mediation, and collaborative law, and if they are prepared to handle your case in court should attempts at settlement fail.

Contact Our Family Law Attorney at the Law Offices of Kyle R. Puro for A Free Consultation Today

If you are searching for a skilled family law attorney in Long Beach, contact the Law Offices of Kyle R. Puro today to schedule a free consultation by calling (562) 653-4583 to learn more about our experience and our approach to developing unique case strategies that allow our clients to thrive going forward.